Political leaders across Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide on Tuesday condoled the passing of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
While she had had a tumultuous equation with the island throughout her political career over the Tamil question, the fishermen’s conflict and the demand to retrieve Katchatheevu, Sri Lankan leaders saw her as a formidable actor in the region.
President Maithripala Sirisena said Jayalalithaa was a truly pro-poor leader, who was dearly loved by all. She was “totally dedicated to the welfare of the people,” he said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that India had lost a leading woman politician who had a towering presence in national politics.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Jayalalithaa was “a stateswoman” who won the hearts of not only the people of South India but all of India. During her lifetime, she did much to establish and maintain a strong sense of fellowship between India and Sri Lanka, he said. “Although she had political differences with Sri Lanka, to her credit as a stateswoman, she maintained that the issues faced by Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen must be solved in a humane manner.”
Tamil National Alliance Leader and Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan said her concern for the resolution of the Tamil question resulted in the passing of several resolutions in the Tamil Nadu Assembly and frequent interactions with the Central Government in New Delhi on Sri Lanka. Her leadership would have a significant place in history, the senior Tamil leader said, placing on record the Tamils’ sincere appreciation for the support Ms. Jayalalithaa and her government rendered to the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee community in Tamil Nadu. “Her demise is a great loss not only to the people of Tamil Nadu but also to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.”
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted: “Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa captured the hearts of India’s Tamil community. My condolences to the family & people of Tamil Nadu.”
Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran, said Ms. Jayalalithaa took on challenges in a male-dominated world and emerged a true winner. “It only goes to show her will power, hard work, perseverance and intelligence,” he said.
Political commentators and the Sri Lankan media have, for long, been closely following Ms. Jayalalithaa’s political moves. Many Sri Lankan papers on Tuesday carried the news of her passing on their front pages.
Ms. Jayalalithaa’s position on Sri Lanka perhaps differed from many fellow-politicians in Tamil Nadu — in that she opposed the LTTE for most part of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, though she spoke of the need to find a political solution to the Tamil question. She urged New Delhi to ban the LTTE, which it did in 1992 after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination the previous year, and even invoked the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) against LTTE sympathisers. “She had a pragmatic view of the war,” said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, who had met her in the 1980s.
Towards the end of the war in 2009 — which coincided with India’s Lok Sabha polls that summer — she observed a daylong fast to express solidarity with Tamil civilians and also urged New Delhi to enforce a ceasefire in the island.
In 2013, she moved a resolution seeking a referendum on creating a Tamil Eelam.